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PR Primer for Startups

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PR Primer for Startups

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Lessons learned after helping 250 startups on their PR / media outreach from the team at PRX (http://prx.co).

1. Who am I?
2. What is PR?
3. Do I need PR?
4. PR goals for startups
5. How the media works
6. How do journalists pick stories?
7. How do journalists find stories?
8. What makes for a good story?
9. How can you do your own PR effectively?
10. Example pitch and journalist responses
11. Embargo
12. Exclusive
13. What happens if a journalist is interested in your story?
14. Timing
15. Hardware
16. Crowdfunding campaigns
17. The truth about press releases
18. How to think about PR for your startup?
19. Final thoughts

Lessons learned after helping 250 startups on their PR / media outreach from the team at PRX (http://prx.co).

1. Who am I?
2. What is PR?
3. Do I need PR?
4. PR goals for startups
5. How the media works
6. How do journalists pick stories?
7. How do journalists find stories?
8. What makes for a good story?
9. How can you do your own PR effectively?
10. Example pitch and journalist responses
11. Embargo
12. Exclusive
13. What happens if a journalist is interested in your story?
14. Timing
15. Hardware
16. Crowdfunding campaigns
17. The truth about press releases
18. How to think about PR for your startup?
19. Final thoughts

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PR Primer for Startups

  1. 1. Lessons I learned after helping 200+ startups with PR Ricky Yean, CEO ricky@prx.co http://www.prx.co/
  2. 2. Contents 1. Who am I? 2. What is PR? 3. Do I need PR? 4. PR goals for startups 5. How the media works 6. How do journalists pick stories? 7. How do journalists find stories? 8. What makes for a good story? 9. How can you do your own PR effectively? 10. Example pitch and journalist responses 11. Embargo 12. Exclusive 13. What happens if a journalist is interested in your story? 14. Timing 15. A note about hardware startups 16. A note about crowdfunding campaigns 17. The truth about press releases 18. How to think about PR for your startup?
  3. 3. Who am I? - Ricky Yean, Stanford Grad - Go Cardinal! - Founded startups backed by Y Combinator, StartX, and 500 Startups - Grew SaaS business from 0 to 250k users and 0 to $1M in ARR completely through media coverage - Founded PRX.co in January 2016, which helped over 200 startups with PR - Most notable campaign: the “Bible Emoji”, a client translated the bible into emoji. We helped them receive coverage from hundreds of media outlets including the New York Times, CNN, Good Morning America, BuzzFeed, and NPR
  4. 4. Our Clients
  5. 5. What is PR? - PR agency services now include: - Advertising - Content Marketing - Social Media Management - Media Relations - The “bread-and-butter” of PR service is Media Relations, or helping clients “pitch” their stories to members of the media “Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public” - Wikipedia
  6. 6. Do I need PR? - Startups need PR to compete with big companies because big companies can easily outspend startups on advertising - If you are investing in advertising campaigns, email marketing, blogging and social media tools, then you should consider PR as alternative means of reaching your audience - Keep in mind: PR has potentially greater reach BUT with significantly less control You wouldn’t hire a salesperson to go after customers if you didn’t have a product. Likewise, you shouldn’t hire PR to go after the media if you don’t have a story.
  7. 7. PR Goals for Startups - Gain Credibility / Awareness - Establish thought leadership - Create hype / Strategic for Stakeholders / Recruiting - Improve Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - Drive traffic, leads, downloads, sign-ups - Facilitate sales conversations - Collect media coverage to support native ad campaign - Build “Air cover” for other initiatives - Boost Ego :)
  8. 8. How the media works - The media’s business model: Make Content People Want - “Journalism” in the traditional sense is only part of media: - Fox News and MSNBC are not objective - BuzzFeed publishes investigative pieces yet also makes “listicles”
  9. 9. How the media works - Journalists are working under extreme pressures due to a failing business model - Business Insider writers produce 5 posts a day and one million unique visitors a month - BuzzFeed writers have salary caps of $40K - The industry churns out massive amounts of content: - Washington Post: 500 articles/day - New York Times: 230 articles/day - BuzzFeed: 222 articles/day
  10. 10. How the media works - Newsrooms are significantly down-sizing due to business model pressures - In 2014, there were only 32,900 full-time staff journalists, down from 55,000 in 2006 - Articles are increasingly written by freelance writers and contributors, who are either not compensated or paid a low rate of $20 to $40 per article, sometimes with traffic incentives
  11. 11. How the media works - The media is no longer just newspapers, TV, radio, or big online media sites - Don’t forget blogs, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. - Influence is shifting constantly - Traditional brands don’t always matter - Remember Gigaom? Do you know MKBHD?
  12. 12. Factors that influence what stories a journalist (or the editor) decides to cover: How journalists pick stories - News cycle/what’s going on in the world that need to be prioritized - Editor’s assignment/newsroom priorities - Timeliness of your story - Personal interest or expertise - Assigned “beat”/coverage domain - Viral potential of your story - Holidays/seasons/memes - If you’re an early-stage company worth knowing for access to even better stories in the future - How fast/easy is it to write a good article about you - Does it help the journalist’s career trajectory?
  13. 13. - Sources include: - Twitter - Niche community sites (e.g. reddit/Hacker News/Product Hunt) - RSS reader of niche blogs/sites - Relationships with industry sources, PR agents, etc. - Other journalists - Personal ideas - Editor’s assignment - Email inbox How journalist find stories
  14. 14. What makes a good story? - Timeliness: Why now? - Prominence: Does it involve anyone that matters to me? - Impact/Consequence: Why does it matter to me? - Surprising: Tell me something I don’t know - Proximity: Is it near me? - Conflict: Does it take a stand on an issue? - Human Interest: Will people want to read it?
  15. 15. What’s “good” is in the eye of the beholder
  16. 16. What’s “good” is in the eye of the beholder
  17. 17. 1) Have a good story - Ask impartial friends if they would click on your potential headline 2) Set reasonable expectations based on the quality of your story 3) Research and identify the right journalists to pitch: - Read what they write - Follow them on Twitter - Look at their job titles and bios - Know their work and education history 4) See if you know anyone journalists trust - For example, partners at Y Combinator and 500 Startups serve as reliable filters for tech reporters How can you do your own PR effectively?
  18. 18. 5) Send a short pitch email - Write a catchy, descriptive subject line, but don’t embellish - stay credible - Outline your story in 3 to 5 sentences using simple language - Include well-known stakeholders, metrics, and data to show credibility - Personalize the email, explaining why it’s relevant to the journalist - Let them know the nature of the pitch - if it’s an “embargo” or an “exclusive”, be clear about what is “under embargo” and what specifically is “exclusive” 6) Follow up twice - Journalists get hundreds of emails a day - You’re more likely to get a response if you follow up - At PRX, we recommend two follow-ups How can you do your own PR effectively?
  19. 19. 7) Make life easier for journalists - Make a media brief / kit so they have all the information they need should they choose to work on your story - Answer questions promptly, making yourself available to do phone interviews or visit journalists with your product - Because journalists pursue multiple story leads simultaneously, keep pushing for your idea to make your story fresh on their minds and increase your chances at turning interest into published articles - Journalists need your help too - help them stand out from their peers by providing an infographic or interesting photo for them to include in the article How can you do your own PR effectively?
  20. 20. 8) Manage your expectations - Even if a journalist arranges an in-person interview with you, there is no guarantee that the article will be written at your preferred time frame, or even written at all - At PRX, we’ve seen some articles published the same day but also as long as 6 months after its interview How can you do your own PR effectively?
  21. 21. Example of a pitch
  22. 22. What to expect from pitch: Nothing or email to pass
  23. 23. What to expect from pitch: Interview request
  24. 24. What to expect from pitch: Questions
  25. 25. What to expect from pitch: Fit with something else
  26. 26. Embargoes - Embargoes are a “gentleman’s agreement” to not publish your story until an agreed time - Journalists generally don’t like it and may not a lot of spend time on it because their article is not going to be differentiated from other outlets’ - Embargoes are appropriate if you have: - A high-value story where multiple journalist will want to be “first” to publish it - A real deadline, such as an app launch date or a surprise performance - Note that an embargo DOES NOT mean: - The journalist will like or publish your story - The journalist will “play ball” - Michael Arrington doesn’t honor embargoes and some break embargoes in order to get a jump on others to get more traffic - always ask for their agreement first!
  27. 27. Exclusives - Exclusives means you are only offering your story to one journalist - Journalists love exclusives - it’s their chance to stand out or get their big “break” - Exclusives are appropriate if you want: - to increase the perceived value of your story - a particular journalist to write your story - the journalist to spend extra time on your story and do a good job - How to execute an exclusive: - Form a list of writers sorted by preference - Go down the list, contacting them one-by-one, giving each a deadline to agree to work on your exclusive - you can always grant a time extension - At PRX, we give them 24 hours
  28. 28. Exclusives - Things to prepare for: - Journalists might be skeptical - if your story is so good, why are you only offering it to me? - Be clear about which information is exclusive and which isn’t - Communicate if and when you will be publishing a blog post, press release or pitching other people - Your fate will still be tied to the journalist’s schedule - even with an exclusive, the journalist may hold the story for a long time or never publish it
  29. 29. What happens if a journalist is interested in your story? - Interest does not necessarily mean coverage - sometimes journalists are just curious - To increase your chance at closing journalists, offer them something to help them stand out from their competition by offering them exclusive angles. Journalist Josh Constine Business Insider Journalist SF Chronicle Journalist BuzzFeed Journalist Exclusive angle to help close Offer a quote or an interview with your VC investor Personal story about how we lived in a van to save money during 500 Offer data about SF bike traffic collected by our product Offer an explainer video and an animated GIF
  30. 30. Timing - Unless you’ve arranged an embargo with journalists, it’s difficult to guarantee media interest at the time you want it - In our experience, the time between initial pitch to a published article usually takes 1 to 3 weeks after pitching to see coverage, but we’ve seen it take as long as 6 months! - Don’t engage a journalist too early - start pitching 1 to 2 weeks before your ideal coverage date - Journalists don’t work with long time horizons unless they’re working on a long investigative or analytical piece
  31. 31. A note about hardware startups - If your product is physical in nature, journalists would want time to try and play with it. Add 2–4 weeks of shipping and trial time to your plans. - If you don’t have units available for shipping, consider scheduling a trip with your prototype or hosting an event for local reporters.
  32. 32. A note about crowdfunding campaigns - If you are planning to pitch a crowdfunding campaign, many media outlets have policies are in place to NOT cover crowdfunding campaigns - Many media outlets have experienced being “burned” in the past when campaigns flame out or when products don’t ship - Still try - there are always exceptions, especially if you have already blown through your funding goal or have a campaign video containing meme or viral potential
  33. 33. Press Releases - Truths - Makes your announcement look “official” - It satisfies regulations of the SEC - For public companies, Regulation FD requires a certain level of public disclosure and a press release technically makes you compliant
  34. 34. Press Releases - Myths - It has SEO value - Google Panda 4.0 significantly reduced the SEO value in 2014 - Press releases are required to have a “rel=nofollow”, including the ones that get syndicated to sites like Yahoo Finance - You will receive media coverage - Most journalists don’t read press releases unless they’re from big important companies - For everyone else, the only gating factor for distributing a press release is $$, which is not a strong signal for quality
  35. 35. Press Releases - Myths - You get syndicated to major media outlets - This is mostly a scam - Here’s one founder’s account after paying for the highest tier to distribute a press release through PRWeb - Here is a report from PRNewswire you can download to see that you don’t really get syndicated and really no one reads them
  36. 36. Paid Contributor Posts - There is a market of contributors who have access to the CMS of various publications and offer to write about you or post your story for a price - PRX is not affiliated with this marketplace and does NOT help with this, but I’ve attached a sample email and price list for you to get a sense of the market rate
  37. 37. How to think about PR for your startup? “PR is responsible for outcomes beyond its control” - Chris Nicholson Co-Founder of Skymind 10+ years as Reporter at Bloomberg, New York Times, etc Former PR @ FutureAdvisor
  38. 38. How to think about PR for your startup? - Don’t spend too much time on media outreach yourself because the outcome is hard to predict - Getting to know journalists feels gratifying, especially when you get some coverage from it, but it’s more transactional than you’d like think - If you don’t have a great story, the best relationships won’t get you anywhere - Focus your time on making your company consistently story-worthy - Don’t pay excessive amount of $$ for outside PR help - PR agencies charge $5 to 35k/month with a 4 to 12-month commitment - If you are paying <$20k a month, you are still the smallest client on their roster, and they may spend as little time with you as possible
  39. 39. How to think about PR for your startup? - Don’t fall for the relationships trap - most agencies claim to have “relationships” with the media after just one email exchange with a writer - Seasoned PR partners are more likely to have strong relationships, but you have to make sure they are comfortable selling your story and using their “social capital” because the relationships they have are built on their ability to act as reliable quality filters - Agencies tend to oversell their ability to get you media coverage by citing past successes - Every story is different, so past success does not predict future performance - Instead, look for honest effort, transparency, and accountability instead and be as helpful as you can in making your story more appealing
  40. 40. - Don’t rely on PR to save your company - With a process in place, you can make PR more predictable - Even if you successfully get coverage, depending on how the article is written, whether or not a link is prominent, and how well the audience resonates with the article, the impact will vary - You should also evaluate PR’s ROI in terms of giving you credibility, SEO, sales lift, and how it could dovetail with your content marketing, sales, hiring and fundraising strategy - Be clear about your goals: if you want credibility, don’t be disappointed when TechCrunch or the NYTimes fails to drive traffic How to think about PR for your startup?
  41. 41. What journalists think about PRX
  42. 42. Contact me - Feel free to contact me with any questions about PR at ricky@prx.co - If you’re planning to DYI or go the agency route for your startup’s PR campaigns, consider PRX.co as an affordable, accountable alternative
  43. 43. Thanks! Ricky Yean ricky@prx.co http://www.prx.co/

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